A day in the life of tracking the stripes
Tracking is an art. Tiger tracking, is the most patient form of art. It draws sweat, considerbale amount of flies, sunburn, hunger and frustration. But when you spot the striped divinity, you know it was all worth it and for the drivers and guides of a reserve it is an everyday affair. It all usually starts early in the morning in any tiger reserve (which has safaris of course), with the driver and guides feverishly scouring the forest floor for pug marks, scat or even flattened Earth (indicating a tiger resting spot) to understand where they should begin the process of tracking le tigris. "Pugmark raat ka hai, male chala gaya area se" is what our guide opens the tour with. Alarm calls are of course the sure giveaways but if it's a chital (spotted deer) that is responsible for the alarm call, you can't be too sure that it is indicative of cat movement. "Buddhu banate hain yeh chital" spits a driver in disgust while another claims that chital call even when they spot a Snake or Jungle cat. A honk suddenly splits the morning air. 'Sambar' exclaims the excited guide as the driver takes off full speed. "Par bahut andar se hai, chance kam hai, lekin agar sambar bola hai toh tiger hi hoga" explains the guide while the driver claims vantage point atop the jeep to peer through the Sal groves. As we wait, our sweat has attracted several flies. Our guide explains indulgently, "Hand cream lagane se makhi zyada aati hai, khaas karke Boro plus." Nodding sagely, we drink in this information and our waiting ceremony comes to an end. "Aage check karte hain" signals the driver, as the guide continues scanning the floor. A few turns later, a coughing sound encourages the driver to bring the vehicle to a grinding halt. "langur alarm call, movement zaroor yahin hai." After a few patient minutes, the Cicada asong forest is suddenly hit by the call of a cheerful Jungle Fowl. A bit late to announce arrival of dawn, I think to myself, but then the guide looks at us purposefully and says " jungle fowl alarm call, tiger shayad beth gaya hai, shayad kill par hai" Sweating and flustered we hope he is right, when a vehicle passes by and casually announces a tiger sighting. "Ek- do gadi ko hi dikha hai bhaiya, "tiger andar chala gaya, ab mushkil hai dikhna.
Ready to bite the seat covers in pure purile frustration, we decide to take a round of the forest and enjoy the forest instead. We trundle up a hill and as we near the end, we see something that makes our heart skip a beat. A tail, a striped tail, followed by the body of the 'trackee'- Bagh. "Maine kaha tha na isi road par aayega, announce the driver and guide in unison. The tiger oblivious of lovestruck humans following it, continues walking, leaving huge pugmarks in its wake and as it walks, the chital set up an orchestra of calls, while the langurs cough themselves hoarse. As the tiger marks its territory, the spray can be heard clearly in the still evening. "Road -e - road chalega sahab" whispers the guide, as the tiger suddenly cuts across and melts into the forest. And as we celebrate a successful tiger encounter, our faithful trackers like so many in other parts of the country, gear for another day of heat, flies, tracks and calls which encapsulates the essence of tracking the stripes.